Walking in the Shoes of Our Customers

When the tables turned and the author became a software customer, "the loftiness of strategic vision met the cold, hard pavement of execution."

I have spent the bulk of my software career as a member of the sales camp. My comfort zone is nurturing big ideas and helping to motivate clients to embrace change. It is thrilling to earn the right to engage with clients through the decision-making process, help clients gain confidence that transformation is possible and support the first steps in execution. Pretty lofty, I know. But something happened this past year…the tables turned, and I became a software-buying customer. The loftiness of strategic vision met the cold, hard pavement of execution. I found the descent both rapid and eye-opening. First, a little context -- my sales enablement team convinced me the time had come to implement a learning management system (LMS). A LMS was a necessary platform for our team's and company’s growth ambitions. A LMS system would eliminate a ton of manual processing, freeing resources on the team. At the same time, it would help us focus learner and management attention on building skills that matter, a benefit to the larger sales organization. I agreed, and, in doing so, I stepped into the shoes of our customers. For sure, a LMS implementation is not the size, scale or complexity our Guidewire customers face replacing core systems. But, even at a smaller scale, the implementation has been a valuable education.
  • Success depends upon strong partnership between business and IT. There is just no way IT can run a project without involvement from the business, and the business needs strong project management partners and the technical subject matter expertise from IT. It’s just that simple.
  • If you don’t have the resources to dedicate to the project, don’t do it. It’s hard to find the time to focus on software implementation when there is a business to run. But if there isn’t someone on the business side getting up every day to advance the project, the project is at risk. Asking someone from the business to manage a software project as a part-time job is the myth of multitasking in action. Projects by their nature need focused attention.
  • Process matters. I can hear the words of Alex Naddaff, senior vice president, programs, at Guidewire (who led our professional services organization for the first decade of our company’s history), ringing in my ear: “Project success depended on small teams, empowered to make decisions, who can do so quickly.” He’s right. Without an agile process that promotes consistent communication and team transparency, the project will find rough going.
These aren’t new lessons. These are the same lessons we bring to the table every time we engage with Guidewire prospects and customers. We preach that success depends on:
  • Strong business and IT partnerships;
  • Focused dedication of small teams; and
  • Transparent processes.
The lesson for me is just how hard it is to stay true to these principles. It requires trade-offs, budget allocation and the prioritization of team members’ time. It means accepting that some things won’t get done. I will share the good news: Because we are following these fundamentals, our project is green, and we are closing in on our deployment date. I’ve got nothing but thanks and praise for the team leading the charge (Sarah from IT and Wendy from enablement, you both rock). We’re not there yet – there are more weeks and months of tough decisions and trade-offs ahead. But we’re close, the goal line is in sight and the realization of benefits is just around the corner. Even more than the deployment, the biggest win for me is that next time I get the chance to talk to customers and prospects about the perils of software implementation, I can engage with this first-hand experience and empathy for the process. I can say with complete sincerity that the work sucks, but that it’s worth it.  

Eileen Maier

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Eileen Maier

Eileen Maier is vice president, sales consulting, at Guidewire Software. She oversees global pre-sales support and the development of sales enablement programs for the extended team of Guidewire sellers. Maier started her career at Liberty Mutual Insurance and has spent the last 10 years with Guidewire.

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